The call from many Black Hills hunters to kill more mountain lions because of declining populations of deer and elk succeeded today.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided to allow hunters to take up to 50 female lions or up to 70 lions of either gender in the 2012 season that opens in January.
There were 49 killed in the 2011 season.
The 2012 season is scheduled to run through the end of March but will end sooner when either quota is reached.
The quotas are the highest since mountain lion hunting resumed in the past decade and are higher than the state Wildlife Division’s recommendations for 2012 of 40 females or 60 lions total.
Commissioners voted 6-2 in favor of the 70-50 quotas that were proposed by commissioner Mike Authier of Vivian.
Authier was supported by commissioners Susie Knippling of Gann Valley, Jim Spies of Watertown, Barry Jensen of White River, Cathy Peterson of Salem and chairman Jeff Olson of Rapid City.
Voting against were John Cooper of Pierre and Jim McMahon of Canton. They said they were reluctant to reach beyond the professional staff’s recommendations.
Spies summed up the situation. “I think everybody is slow dancing,” he said. “I think raising it makes sense from everything I heard yesterday.”
A public hearing Thursday drew comments from 17 people who favored killing more lions, three who opposed higher quotas and four who didn’t take a specific position on that question. Many of the speakers said they’re spotting fewer elk and deer in the Black Hills.
Olson said he found it “amazing” that the lion population doesn’t show any significant effects yet from the decisions in past years to allow hunters to take more and more of them.
He said 98 lions are known to have died at the hands of hunters and through other ways in 2010, including 15 who were killed by vehicles. He said mortality this year is already above 70.
“It makes it hard to understand that we’re bringing them down,” Olson said.
Hunters killed two lions in Custer State Park during the special 2011 season and killed 47 lions in the general season.
The 2011 quotas were 45 total and 30 females for the general season and five for the park. There were 22 males and 27 females killed between the two seasons.
The 2011 park season had 10 licenses chosen through a special drawing. Eight hunters used the licenses they received.
For 2012, lions killed in the park will be part of the total count. The park hunting will halt if either the 70 or 50 is reached.
The 2012 park season will feature six groups of 15 hunters selected through a drawing. Each group of 15 will be allowed to hunt during a 15-day interval.
Many of the people who testified Thursday referred to a GFP study under way about the park’s elk herd.
The biologist conducting the study said today that 30 elk calves were radio-collared and 14 are known to have been killed by lions and another died from an undetermined predator. But Chad Lehman also cautioned that the results are from one year and more research is needed.
He said the results from the park study shouldn’t be the basis for decisions throughout the Black Hills because conditions vary.
Six years ago the commission began a push to reduce the elk populations in the Black Hills to take pressure off landowners. Commissioner Cooper said mountain lion predation wasn’t give much thought as part of that management.
Now the situation is reversed with elk populations down by several thousand to around 4,000 and elk hunting licenses cut back somewhat for this fall’s seasons.
GFP’s big-game chief Tom Kirschmann said the Wildlife Division’s recommendation of 60 and 40 quotas would be expected to bring the mountain lion population down to the low end of the 150 to 200 range that has been the target.
Commissioner McMahon said many members of the public want more lions killed than do the wildlife biologists. He doesn’t want to ignore the biologists. “I think it’s kind of dangerous,” he said.